Marriage Canon Relaxed: Weddings May Take Place outside Church

By Portman, William | Anglican Journal, June-July 2004 | Go to article overview

Marriage Canon Relaxed: Weddings May Take Place outside Church


Portman, William, Anglican Journal


St. Catharines, Ont.

Divorced Anglicans hoping to re-marry in church may soon have to deal only with their parish priest instead of having to apply to a diocesan matrimonial commission for approval. General Synod gave second reading to an amendment to Canon XXI (the church's marriage canon or law) allowing each diocese to decide if it wants to make the parish priest the decision maker or continue with a matrimonial commission. Until a diocese chooses what it wants to do, its situation remains unchanged.

The decision was part of the first major revision of the marriage canon since its adoption in 1962. Before then, Anglican priests were forbidden to officiate at any wedding involving a divorced person whose former partner was still living. The matrimonial commissions formed a key element of the 1962 canon, and three previous attempts to abolish them were defeated.

Other major amendments approved included changes in the "Table of Kindred and Affinity" to bring it into line with present Canadian law, and permitting marriages to be solemnized in places other than church buildings. All the revisions, involving a total of six motions, were approved by substantial majorities and will have an immediate effect in every parish. Because they involved issues of doctrine and discipline, changes had to be passed by two-thirds majorities in separate votes by bishops, clergy, and lay delegates at two successive General Synods. Following approval at the 2001 session, they were sent to all provincial and diocesan synods for review and possible amendments.

It was this process that resulted in the "local option" amendment to allow each diocese to decide whether or not to retain its matrimonial commission. Two provincial synods, Canada (made up of seven dioceses in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces) and Rupert's Land (northwestern Ontario, the three prairies provinces, and the Arctic), called for changes that would permit each diocese to retain or discard its matrimonial commission and thus allow for cultural differences about divorce and remarriage.

"This is a very sensitive and difficult issue among first nations people," said Bishop David Ashdown of Keewatin. "Less than five years ago the diocese threatened to divide over it--local self-determination is absolutely essential." Bishop Donald Harvey of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador said, "It would be sad to lose something so pastorally effective" as the matrimonial commission, but lay member Jan Best of Rupert's Land described the experience as "degrading. …

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